The Government Shutdown: Your Questions Answered

Before December of 2018, the United States government had been shut down 20 times. Despite this fairly large number, many Americans remain in the dark about the definition, causes and implications of a government shutdown. Now that the country is in the midst of the longest shutdown in its history, knowledge of the background and impact is more important than ever.

First things first: what is a government shutdown? They have only been in practice since the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which established “an orderly process for annual budgeting and re-establish[ed] congressional power over fiscal policy,” according to American Progress, mandating Congress’s approval before large presidential spending plans.

In simpler terms, a shutdown or, more accurately, partial shutdown, occurs when Congress and the president agreeably appropriate funds for an upcoming fiscal year. Some prefer the term ‘partial’ shutdown because not all federal programs and agencies are automatically halted. Rather, all “non-essential” programs cease, and their employees are sent home without pay.

In October 2013, Americans experienced the most memorable recent government shutdown, the first since 1996. The 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days, serving as a Republican effort to cut funding for the controversial Affordable Care Act. 2013’s shutdown affected federal employees and everyday Americans alike and lost the United States economy $24 billion, according to a report from Standard and Poor’s.

On Saturday, December 22, 2018, the government partially shutdown once again for the first major time since 2013 (with the exception of two short shutdowns in January and February 2018), due to a very different, controversially-pricy issue: President Trump’s border wall and border security. Along with moral debate surrounding the wall’s construction, Democratic legislators’ refusal to meet Trump’s $5 billion demand has led to this record-breaking shutdown.

Congress sits at a total impasse, with House and Senate Democrats denying negotiations or funding of any kind for the border until the government reopens, while Republicans and Trump refuse to reopen the government without full funding for the wall. In fact, the president has said, “I may declare a national emergency,” about border control through an executive order, further polarizing the situation.

The previous longest government shutdown was the aforementioned event in 1996 under the Clinton administration, which lasted for 21 days. The current shutdown broke this record on January 12, and it continues with no end in sight, with both parties remaining stubborn in their stances.

Considering this shutdown seems likely to continue for days, weeks, or months, what is the impact on the country, government agencies and their employees? At large, the country faces potentially detrimental economic consequences the longer the shutdown progresses. Reported by CNN, Kevin Hassett, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis itself “underestimated the negative impact on… economic growth from the ongoing government shutdown.”

Agencies affected by the 2019 shutdown, meaning either shut down partially or completely, include the Departments of Commerce, Interior, State, Transportation, Justice, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Homeland Security. In total, these departments include about 800,000 employees facing missed paychecks, many of whom continue working without pay. As of January 3rd, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee report, 420,000 federal employees were working without pay, a number that only continues to climb.

The longer the shutdown goes on, the greater the impact. For instance, according to The Politico, food stamp benefits in some states may be unavailable in March if the shutdown continues, potentially drastically affecting thousands of Americans. Also, federal employees living without their paychecks, even if they will receive backpay once the shutdown ends, have no cashflow for bills or necessary expense, prompting many to apply for unemployment.

This shutdown is like the 20 others in American history in many ways, but its sheer length and political animosity make it unique. The consequences of lack of funding costs the country billions and makes some federal employees wonder how they would pay their electricity bill, afford medications, or find their next meal. With no end in sight, these implications will only continue to multiply.

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